PhD Reflections

Delegation of work to machines

A while back Chris Bigum drew my attention to the delegation of work to machines in activity. Now that my doctoral pilot study is over, I have had the time to mull over some of my data, present, and write on it.

Whilst literacies are best understood as a part of everyday social and professional practices; that is, they are always and already embedded in particular forms of social activities. Reading and writing, therefore, are best understood in the contexts of the social practices in which they find themselves. But literacy is also never separate from its technology (pencil, printing press, smartphone, etc.), so the relationship is not so asymmetrical.

When digital tools are used in traditional classrooms, and other situations, a variety of agents irrupt into our world, displacing quotidian practices; the delegation of work to a machine then becomes a key issue.

Search engines, for example, exert force: they can limit or expand the scope of a writer’s choices when browsing for research purposes. Writers can and will be influenced heavily by choices thrown up at them by, for example, Google’s search engine algorithms, which are based on a continuously developing artificial intelligence system. A student’s essay, therefore, will subsequently be shaped by what the algorithms ‘think’ she was searching for.

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